Fundraising in a Pluralistic Setting: Helpful or Hindrance?
While pluralism is an asset as an educational lens, is it an asset when it comes to fundraising? Does the word “pluralism” excite or confuse? Should boards, heads and development directors focus fundraising efforts on the school’s core identity or on something else entirely? Interviews with a number of development professionals in RAVSAK schools provided a wide range of answers to these important questions. The strategies proposed fit well in some settings and not in others. As you read, consider which tactics might elevate your development approach.
Place the emphasis on the school as a venue for the transmission of Jewish values and let the pluralism speak for itself.
In some community day schools, “pluralism” is a widely understood term and for key constituents, the primary reason for providing support. In many schools, however, Jewish values—specifically, their transferability to a new generation—are key. Many of the development directors interviewed stated that it is essential to focus on ideas and ideals well understood by donors, and to embed within them more abstract, aspirational concepts such as pluralism. One development director shared that she foregoes conversations about pluralism, favoring instead language such as “students will carry legacies, values and traditions of our people into the future.”
Help donors understand that pluralism is a Jewish value unto itself.
In schools where diversity and the rich conversations it invites are essential, it is vital to help those who support the school—as well as those yet to support the school!—to come to see pluralism as a value and an asset. One development professional stated that, in her school, “one of the most appealing things to donors is knowing that their gift supports all Jewish children, not just certain types of Jewish children.” An active lay leader in another school shared that he tries to engage potential donors by explaining that “our school is all about the Jewish people, all kinds of Jewish people, because acting this way is essentially Jewish.”
Continuity is more important to donors than diversity.
Another asset is that our schools ensure a vibrant Jewish future. This theme has been reiterated countless times since the 1990 Jewish Population Study reported that the size of the Jewish community is shrinking. Whether this notion inspires action or fear varies from one person to the next; regardless, the notion of continuity still resonates for many day school supporters. One of our development directors explains to her donors that “you are doing nothing less than investing in the future of our Jewish community” when you support her school.
Focus on socio-economic diversity as a subset of pluralism.
Many people understand that community day schools are “big tents” inclusive of Jews from across a wide range of religious and cultural practices. What may be more compelling to funders is an awareness that community day schools strive to include Jewish children from different economic backgrounds. Economic diversity is an essential part of a community day school’s social fabric, and this can make a compelling case for giving.
Focus on the school as the community’s school (and the community’s responsibility).
Many RAVSAK schools have a unique corner of the market within their communities: the only venue for a full-time Jewish education. This fact can be enough for many supporters; for others, the case needs to be made that the community’s school includes children from all sectors of the local Jewish community. By explaining that the school is transforming the Jewish community, the donor can understand themselves as part of a broader goal.
Learn what your donors value and help tie their values back to pluralism.
Understanding the needs and dreams of supporters is a basic fundraising principle, one that every development professional and volunteer embraces. Some of those interviewed expressed that in a community day school, this was a start, but that long-term support for the school comes only when the donor can see the links between what matters to them most and the pluralistic nature of the school. One development director shared that she regularly uses the expressions “and that resonates here because we are pluralistic” or “as a pluralistic school, we really bring that to life.”
Learn what other schools say.
Many development professionals and volunteers said that part of what informs their messages is knowing how other community day schools frame their asks. This information helps prevent “reinventing the wheel,” but more so, it places each school in the context of community day schools across North America and beyond. RAVSAK is a useful source of this networking and knowledge. Please share your development questions, ideas and success stories with us and colleagues by sending them to Rachel Alexander, Director of Institutional Advancement, at Rachel@ravsak.org.
Key to all of these approaches, different as they may be, is to manage your message, listen to donor interests, be planful in your approach, and above all, keep your eye on the prize: the financial stability of the school. ♦
Dr. Marc N. Kramer is Executive Director of RAVSAK. He can be reached at email@example.com.